Matthew Kelly is a front runner in the Catholic speaking circuit. He has written numerous books including Rediscover Catholicism and The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. He is the founder of Dynamic Catholic. Over the last several years he has grown in popularity. While this is great for him, his methods are effective for a minute few, and ineffective for the vast majority of practicing Catholics.
I used to be a huge fan of Matthew Kelly. I have a lot of his talks, a couple of his books, and I would give out copies of Rediscover Catholicism to lapsed Catholics. You can even find many mentions of him throughout this blog. Matthew Kelly has played a role in my desire to learn more about the faith. However, having gained the knowledge I now have, I’ve realized that Matthew Kelly doesn’t teach Catholicism in its entirety. His approach is laced with modernism, rooted in emotionalism, and waters down Catholic identity to appeal to a Protestant mentality.
During recent years, parishes across the country have been giving out copies of Rediscover Catholicism to those in attendance at Christmas and Easter Masses. The concept is to re-engage Catholics who are only coming to Mass on Christmas and Easter. The program seemed to have an impact, as many people across the country were coming back to the Catholic Church. While I have no complaints about bringing people back to the Church, I do have a serious concern about methods that use emotion as opposed to logic and reason.
Rediscover Catholicism is a book written for a very specific audience. It’s written for those who hardly identify as Catholic, or who have left the Church completely. It’s an appetizer to the grand banquet of Catholic cuisine. The book’s purpose is to present the case for Catholicism simply and pithily. It only scrapes the surface and doesn’t dig deeply. It relies heavily on emotion and sentimentalism.
The introductory story of Rediscover Catholicism is meant to be a parable of God the Father giving up Jesus Christ, His Only Son. The analogy is incomplete unless the reader has a devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist. In Kelly’s example, the parents decide to sacrifice their son, ignore his pleas for help and knowledge, and leave him questioning as his parents abandon him.
There is a significant difference between Kelly’s tale and the sacrifice Jesus willingly embraced in order to bring eternal life to the world. Jesus knew what was involved and what was to come of His passion. This boy did not know what was going on. Allowing your child to choose to give up their life to save those around them, and volunteering your child without their consent are two vastly different theological choices. With Jesus, we see a sacrifice of choice. With Kelly, we see a forced victim. Jesus laid down His life willingly for others. Kelly’s tale is contrived, an artificial and incomplete analogy.
The Rediscover Catholicism and Dynamic Catholic Institute mentalities are awash in modernism. Modernism was deemed heresy by Pope St. Pius X, and described as the synthesis of all heresies. Modernism reveals itself by presenting something very traditional and recognizably Catholic in one context, and something very non-Catholic almost as a counterpoint, or a contradiction, attached to it. An example of modernism would be an author talking about how important Catholic identity is on one page of his book, and on the next page discuss how each person can worship however they feel brings them closer to God.
An example would be this statement on how Matthew Kelly views tradition in Rediscover Catholicism:
Many are calling for a return to the past. These people are reactionaries, not visionaries. Too often their cries are driven by a fear of uncertainty and a grappling for stability. Rather than placing their trust in God and cooperating with his future, they allow their humanity to get the better of them as they try to control things beyond their control.” Matthew Kelly, “Rediscover Catholicism” page 22-23 2010
Pope St. Pius X states in his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907):
They exercise all their ingenuity in an effort to weaken the force and falsify the character of tradition, so as to rob it of all its weight and authority. But for Catholics nothing will remove the authority of the second Council of Nicea, where it condemns those “who dare, after the impious fashion of heretics, to deride the ecclesiastical traditions, to invent novelties of some kind…or endeavor by malice or craft to overthrow any one of the legitimate traditions of the Catholic Church”.
Many parishes are beginning to switch over from traditional catechetical programs and are using Rediscover Catholicism and other programs by the Dynamic Catholic Institute as their course material. This would be the equivalent of using a hammer to pound in a screw. You are using a tool which has an already intended purpose in a way in which it was not intended.
At one time I was convinced that using Matthew Kelly’s methods would be the most effective way to get people interested in Catholicism. I attended his Living Life with Passion and Purpose event. I was even ecstatic when the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis partnered with him to create the “Rediscover Faith” series which was incorporated in each parish within the Archdiocese. I was thrilled about the “Rediscover Catholic Celebration” conference the Archdiocese hosted in 2013 which was attended by 5,000 Catholics.
Looking back, Rediscover Catholicism is a very basic explanation of Christianity. There is so much more to learn about Catholicism that requires us to engage material which is at a deeper level of understanding. From what I have seen, this program does not encourage the learner to look deeper into the more advanced subject matter, instead, enabling one to keep buying books at the same level of reason. While there is nothing wrong with simple explanations, to keep someone from advancing in their faith is sinful. A pre-school teacher not only gives his students the information and knowledge required to advance to Kindergarten, but also encourages the skills and curiosity to want to learn. Likewise, a Kindergarten teacher teaches the knowledge and skills required of his students to advance to First Grade. Additionally, if the subject matter is mired in Modernist philosophies, then the experience will be confusing at best and discouraging at worst. Heresy leads us further from Christ, not closer.
According to Kelly, 85% of Catholics leave the Church within seven years of being confirmed. Last year, Matthew Kelly released Decision Point, a confirmation program designed to address this problem. Having taught Religious Education to 10th and 11th graders going into Confirmation (confirming children at this age is part of the problem), I was excited.
I recall that in one of Father Robert Barron’s talks, he mentions a problem with Catholic schools. At his niece’s high school graduation party, she had displayed all of her books from her senior year. Included were books on Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, and many books in Latin. When Father Barron got to her religion book, it was a thin book in which all the pages were cartoonish and the subject matter was what was to be expected for a child. We are teaching high school students advanced academic and sociological material, yet we can’t give them anything intellectually challenging or stimulating in regard to the Catholic faith.
I bring this up because every page of Decision Point is littered with random doodles. Every page. Additionally, the subject matter is light. From my perusal, there was no explanation about the consequences of Hell, nor even mention of Hell. There was no mention of Purgatory. There were no explanations of mortal or venial sin. Zero references to the Devil, but one mention of Satan when Kelly quotes the Renewal of Baptism formula (pg. 259). There is one mention of original sin.
But, rest assured, there are at least 75 references to Kelly’s self-coined “Best-Version-Of-Yourself” mantra to instill a sense of the feel-goods. If this book is meant for Catholics in middle school and high school, why are we treating them like toddlers?
There are no serious reasons regarding why we need to embrace Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. When asked, “Why should I stay in the Catholic Church?” Kelly responds with:
There are lots of reasons you should stay Catholic and grow in your faith every day, but what is more compelling than to say, “You should stay because Jesus prayed you would”? There in the garden of Gethsemane two thousand years ago Jesus agonized over every person who would think about leaving his Church, and he prayed that they would remain one. – Decision Points pg 223.
Matthew Kelly says “there are lots of reasons” to stay Catholic, but uses a weak reason rooted in sentimentalism to try to make you feel bad. He doesn’t discuss it being the Church that Christ started as the reason. He doesn’t talk about Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus which is the Catholic Doctrine that states there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church. Instead of using logic and reason to engage the maturing Christian reader into making a lasting decision on why they should be Catholic, he uses sentimentalism and emotions to persuade them to be Catholic. Essentially, “not being Catholic makes Jesus sad” is his reasoning.
Sentimentalism emerges in most of Kelly’s language. “The Best Version of Yourself” is a term Kelly began using after he read the Second Vatican Council’s declaration stating the universal call to holiness. When teaching this declaration, many people would shrug off the idea of holiness. He began using this catch-phrase and people responded positively. While changing the language a bit to help drive a point (Jesus did this with His parables), it’s important to remember that context is needed. This phrase only works when you apply a lens of holiness and God’s law to it. Any other lens and this phrase can be used to promote a litany of sins.
Eventually, this blossoms fully into the mentality of “feel good Catholicism”. If the teaching is too hard, too old, or doesn’t leave you with a feeling of joy, then it isn’t good. This can be seen in 2014’s “Rediscover Catholic Celebration” put on by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. There was no mention of having a reverent Mass. Everything had to feel good. No classical Gregorian Chant, but plenty of Modernist Praise and Worship tunes. No time for deep contemplation, but enough time to do a “flash mob” to a rendition of Pharrell’s “Happy“. Planners had reserved room for 10,000 people. Only 5,000 came.
At this event, they discussed the brand new program they were going to launch; “Amazing Parish”. Amazing Parish is similar to “Rebuilt” in which we forego most of our Catholic identity in all facets of parish life to appear more Protestant friendly and appeal to those leaving the Catholic Church for Mega-Churches. It is important to note that this “mega-church” mentality doesn’t work. Parishes that embrace tradition and reverent Masses are the parishes which see a boost in parish attendance and tithing. The Church in general has been trying to appear more Protestant for the last 50 years and are seeing the fruits manifest in the problems we face; priest shortages, vocation declines, parishes merging/clustering/closing. Becoming more Protestant won’t fix the problem.
There are plenty of liturgical abuses in many Masses across the world. Taking issue with these abuses is normal and good. Matthew Kelly is a firm believer that those who take issue with these abuses are the ones who have the problem, not the priests who allow the transgressions. The complainers have an imperfect heart for not appreciating Jesus Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Ultimately, this logic reduces one to accept “clown Masses are okay, and if you have a problem with it, you are deficient in your faith”.
The works of Matthew Kelly were a stepping stone in my faith, but his approach is insufficient. His books are simple, and don’t touch upon the important aspects of the Catholic faith. Each person is unique and different, and each person is entitled to hear the fullness of the Truth. There are plenty of resources written prior to 1965 that explain Catholicism concisely and provide plenty of meat to chew on for both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. I would highly recommend reading St. Peter Canisius’ “Catechism for Catholics” to get a solid understanding of Catholic teaching. There are some good nuggets in what Matthew Kelly has to offer, but due to the Modernism that is laced throughout much of his material, it would be best to avoid it and stick to the catechetical material which has been developed throughout the history of the Church.
Finally, while these novel methods may bring an influx of people into the Church the methods do not have the lasting effects would the methods that the Church has had at her disposal over the last 2000 years. I don’t think Matthew Kelly embraces Modernism intentionally. I believe he’s a product of the catechesis of his day. The Church has suffered greatly these last 50+ years in catechesis and the knowledge and attitude of today’s Catholics demonstrates it. Matthew Kelly has a gentle demeanor which many find attractive. If he would embrace traditional teachings and present them clearly, he would make many Catholics stronger in their faith, a faith which will last longer than the popularity of his latest book.
The Traditional Latin Mass, the Baltimore Catechism, and traditional Catechesis have plenty of substance to feed the faithful and an 80% retention rate prior to 1965. New ways to present classic material come out each year which tries to address the now 15% retention rate, and fail. Perhaps we should use what the Church has always used: good old fashioned Truth.